Berners-Lee defends net neutrality, promotes global net access

15 Sep 2010

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who wrote the first web client and server in 1990, has called for everyone to be given access to the web for free. He also attacked companies for threatening net neutrality and urged them to rethink how they handle private data.

During his keynote speech at Nokia World in London, Berners-Lee stated he wants to see everyone given a low-bandwidth connection “by default,” as it could be vital in giving people access to critical services.

“I initially assumed you should get them water first, you should get them healthcare and then it is the luxury of getting the web,” he said.

“But it is not actually like that. The web can be pretty instrumental in getting them access to healthcare.”

Berners-Lee noted it would result in a different kind of healthcare than the West has, however, it would provide a step change in many regions of the world which have none.

“There is no AIDS vaccine, so what are you going to do about it?” he asked.

“Getting that message across in their own tongue on the web is something that isn’t happening now.”

Internet usage worldwide

He pointed out that 80pc of the world does not go online – that is, while they can access the internet, they do not go on it.

Berners-Lee feels the cost of data is part of this. He said that, while they access SMS for sharing information, this is quite limiting.

He urged that future web apps should work on a variety of different devices and said if developers did it now, “it’s a hope for the future that they will work with devices we haven’t even imagined yet”.

He also criticised companies who questioned the concept of net neutrality.

“There are a lot of companies who would love to be able to limit what webpages you can see, and governments would love to be able to slow down information going down to particular sites,” said Berners-Lee.

He emphasised that net neutrality should be always be fought for.

“The moment you let net neutrality go, you lose the web as it is,” he said.

“You lose something essential – the fact that any innovator can dream up an idea and set up a website at some random place and let it just take off from word of mouth.”

Privacy on the internet

Berners-Lee also noted at Nokia World that privacy online will have to be thought about from a “different point of view.”

“When you work in many different roles you may see somebody’s CV and there may be some information that you use if you’re working for HR that you don’t share at the office party,” he said.

“Or you can know my address for a delivery but I don’t want you to use that information in other ways. We’ll end up building systems that help organisations become accountable.

“Responsible companies will end up building systems that respect users because that’s what’s important for keeping customers,” said Berners-Lee.